Perhaps no one was as surprised as Clara City Fire Chief Troy Sweep when firefighter and heavy equipment operator Mike Schmidt used a backhoe to quickly remove a section of roof of what remained of Janice Harms’ house.


Perhaps no one was as surprised as Clara City Fire Chief Troy Sweep when firefighter and heavy equipment operator Mike Schmidt used a backhoe to quickly remove a section of roof of what remained of Janice Harms’ house.

There, amidst the rubble, lay Harms.

Injured, but alive.

“I simply couldn’t believe it,” said Sweep on Monday. “How anyone could survive that explosion is beyond me.”

Sweep said the call came into the Chippewa County Sheriff’s dispatch at 3:46 a.m. Saturday after an incredible explosion rocked the countryside, with the sound and shock being felt 2 1/2 miles south in the town of Clara City. A resident of Crate Township called in the report after hearing the explosion and going out to actually find the house had been leveled to the ground.

Harms’ brother, Calvin, who lives in an adjacent house on the same farm site, told Sweep that it brought him straight out of bed.

Sweep described the scene as complete devastation, with shattered structure and clutter everywhere. The roof of the old family farmhouse had collapsed onto the former structure.

“Everything was gone. Imagine that within a split second everything you ever owned, all the family heirlooms. everything, was destroyed,” he said, including Harms’ dog, which didn’t survive the explosion.

When reports surfaced that Harms might still be in the residence, Sweep said a call was made to nearby Jeff Johnson Excavating, where Schmidt works, and a backhoe was quickly brought to the scene.

“Once we got that started it didn’t take long to find her. I think it was the lifting of the second roof section, in fact, when someone noticed her laying there. Fortunately for her, the refrigerator had shielded her from being crushed by the debris, and perhaps protected from the blast as well,” he said.

Harms was quickly transported to Chippewa County-Montevideo Hospital, then airlifted to North Memorial Medical Center in Robbinsdale. She was initially listed in critical condition, but was upgraded to fair condition by Sunday. Sweep said the family indicated that she could be returned to Montevideo by the end of this week.

Reportedly, chief among her injuries was a broken arm, which Sweep said was incredible.

The cause of the explosion is still under investigation. A fire marshal, John Steinbach, who was on the scene, said there was no foul play involved, and that it was possible propane could have been a factor. Although explosions from the gas are quite rare, when they do occur they’re “incredibly destructive.”

What perhaps saved Harms’ life was that there was no fire after the explosion. “No, the house just exploded. It was a pile of debris all over, but there was no fire, which was definitely a blessing,” said Sweep.

According to a television report, Harms had a nurse at North Memorial call Donner’s Crossroads where she works in the kitchen to let them know she wouldn’t be to work that morning.

“I find that it is amazing, considering all she went through, that she could even think about us here,” said Patrick Stager, a cook at the truckstop. “We’re all just relieved that Janice is still alive and will come through this in good shape. From all we’ve heard, she’s very lucky to be alive.”

Said Sweep, “I would like to thank all the responders from the fire department, ambulance, Chippewa County Sheriff’s office and Jeff Johnson Excavating for doing such an excellent job that morning. With this, the accident and the motorcyclists coming into town, it was a long day.”